Education

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Mount Sinai school board Trustees Robert Sweeney, left, and Peter Van Middelem, right, are sworn in as board president and vice president, respectively. Photo by Erika Karp

The Mount Sinai school board has a new vice president this year.

At the district’s annual reorganization meeting on July 1, Peter Van Middelem, who just finished his first year on the board, was elected to the position in a 4-1 vote. Van Middelem, a retired New York City firefighter, succeeds former Vice President Donna Compagnone, whose term was up this year and decided not to seek re-election.

Van Middelem said his main objectives for the new year include keeping positive communications and relations with the community and the district’s teachers, seeing how new programs, such as Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project, which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers, is implemented, and keeping taps on the new full-day kindergarten program.

“I know that our emphasis right now is to make sure kindergarten is running and up to speed,” he said in a phone interview.

Van Middelem commended his predecessor for all of her work and stated that he had big shoes to fill as vice president.

Trustee Lynn Capobianco, who was re-elected to her second three-year term in May, cast the lone dissenting vote at the meeting. She said she couldn’t support Van Middelem as he allegedly did some political campaigning in his role as president of the Mount Sinai Lacrosse program. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 501(c)(3) organizations are “prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Lynn Capobianco takes her oath of office. Photo by Erika Karp
Lynn Capobianco takes her oath of office. Photo by Erika Karp

Capobianco said that in doing so Van Middelem jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the organization. According to an IRS database, Mt. Sinai Lacrosse Inc’s status had been automatically revoked in February 2013 for failing to file a return for three consecutive years. Van Middelem declined to comment on Capobianco’s concerns.

“I respect him greatly for the work he has done for that organization, but based on those issues I think the leadership comes into question,” Capobianco said.

While the board saw a change in its vice president, Robert Sweeney, who was elected to his second three-year term in 2014, is staying put as president. Board newcomer Mike Riggio was unable to make the first meeting and was sworn into his position at an earlier time.

Sweeney thanked the board for its vote and seemed to set the tone for the 2015-16 school year. He pointed out how the trustees were all wearing pins that read, “Respect public education.”

“This is an important statement that we are making about our teachers. … We respect them,” he said.

Sweeney continued to speak about the importance and need for public education.

“I wouldn’t be here and in my career without it,” he said.

Joe Sabia. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A former Northport-East Northport school board trustee is calling the group’s decision to shell out $935 a day for an interim assistant superintendent for human resources “absurd.”

The board voted on June 15 to appoint Lou Curra as its interim assistant superintendent for human resources from June 17 through Dec. 23, replacing former assistant superintendent Rosemarie Coletti, who resigned on June 30 to take another job. Curra didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday, but Joe Sabia, who served on the school board from 2011 to 2014, took to the microphone at a meeting on July 1 to tell board members he and others in the community felt that $935 a day was too high, and that the district should have hired someone from within.

“They think that you’re pushing the envelope too far against the homeowners — the taxpayers of this district — to bring in an interim,” he said.

School board members, however, countered that the appointment is not long-term and that the board needed to find someone with the right skill set to assist new Superintendent Robert Banzer.

“That is a per diem appointment with no vacation time, no sick time, no benefits,” Trustee Julia Binger told Sabia. “… And also we needed somebody who was very experienced, because we have a new superintendent on board, and we need to have somebody very solid who really understands human resources and collective bargaining and so on.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said that for human resources, this is the busiest time of the year.

“We are in the process of soliciting resumes for permanent person to take over that and hopefully we’ll have someone on board in relatively short order,” he said.

With costs rising all over, Sabia said taxpayers are struggling.

“You’re pushing people to the limit,” he said.

Johanna Testa. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Miller Place Board of Education has a new set of leaders this year.

At its annual reorganization meeting on July 1, board trustees promoted Johanna Testa from vice president to president and elected Rich Panico as vice president. Testa was first elected to the board in 2013, while Panico was elected in 2014.

The meeting also marked Keith J. Frank’s first. Frank won the open seat on the board of education two months ago.

“I was excited, I thought it went well and I continue to look forward to the new year,” Frank said in a phone interview the next day.

Frank said capital improvements to the district’s facilities and buildings that are currently underway would be the first project he focuses on as a trustee. In addition, he would like to find ways to maintain the academic excellence that Miller Place is known for, as well as extracurricular activities, music and art programs.

Keith J. Frank is sworn in as Miller Place school board's newest trustee. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Keith J. Frank is sworn in as Miller Place school board’s newest trustee. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Testa and Panico expressed similar thoughts. The leaders said the school board’s attention will be on updates to the athletic fields. The Miller Place High School football fields will be replaced with synthetic turf and lighting will be installed. The projects are funded through a bond referendum passed last year.

“I feel honored and positive about being appointed the new board president,” Testa said in a phone interview. “I think we have a good board and I am looking forward to the upcoming year.”

Panico said he didn’t anticipate being nominated for vice president.

“I was very honored since it’s only my second year on the board,” he said in a phone interview. “I wasn’t expecting it, it’s pretty neat.”

The renovations to the athletic fields need to be done by September for the students to use in the fall, Panico said, so he is eager to see the improvements begin.

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by President Julia Binger and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully.”

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More than 400 Newfield High School students received their diplomas on Saturday, June 27, at the school’s annual commencement ceremony.

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The rain couldn’t put a damper on the Harborfields Tornadoes last weekend, as the Class of 2015 celebrated the 56th annual commencement on Saturday, June 27.

Gowns of green and white could be spotted, and seniors were greeted with cheers from the stands and triumphant sounds delivered by the high school band.

Salutatorian Jamie Letourneau, Class President Katherine Ryan and Valedictorian Eli Slamowitz spoke fondly of their classmates and provided words of encouragement for the future.

The ceremony also featured speeches by Superintendent Diana Todaro, Principal Rory Manning and English teacher Kristen Gavin.

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On Sunday, June 14, Cold Spring Harbor High School held its 52nd commencement honoring the Class of 2015.

High School Principal Jay Matuk congratulated the class, and following tradition at the school district, there were three reflection speakers this year: David May, Gabrielle Bailenson and Allison Grey. The ceremony also featured a performance by senior Christine Collins, who joined the wind ensemble on the flute. Senior Emily Gallagher led the audience in the national anthem.

Commencement also featured comments from Superintendent Judith A. Wilansky and school board President Anthony Paolano.

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The Class of 2015 celebrated their graduation in Port Jefferson on Friday, remembering their pasts as they looked toward their bright futures.

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Huntington High School marked its 154th annual commencement on Friday, June 26.

The Blue Devils celebrated in style, marking the occasion with a processional, speeches by a number of students and school officials, words of wisdom from Valedictorian Caitlin Knowles and Salutatorian Joe Saginaw and much cheer from excited parents. It was also longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi’s last graduation, as she celebrates retirement this year.

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Centereach High School students received their diplomas Saturday morning at their commencement ceremony under beautiful, sunny skies. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) addressed the senior class with his now presumably patented “Go for it!” speech, the class Valedictorian Devon Patel compared life to a long race in the video game “Mario Kart,” and senior class President Raquel DiGiacomo took a selfie with the entire senior class at the conclusion of her speech. Principal Thomas Bell also took the time to recognize the family of Matthew Lewis, a member of the senior class who passed away earlier in this school year.

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